It does not surprise me the antivaxxer movement is growing. While the movement itself is nothing new, the information is taking forms more convincing yet not more accurate. A reasonably scientific mind can see through these manipulations of data, but for those without a science background, intelligent, reasonable people can easily fall for the carnival tricks antivaxxers deploy.
I've collected here a set of patterns I've seen in my many interactions with antivaxxers in the hopes of fighting back against misinformation.
#1 Cases went down before the vaccine was introduced
The above graph comes up quite a bit, perhaps because all the data is true...but misrepresented.
More recently I've seen this approach applied to other vaccines:
At first glance, it looks like something was fighting measles already and those useless vaccines in the 60s stepped in to take all the credit.
Let's note this is a chart of death from measles, not total cases. So it's a great thing that medicine outside of vaccines advanced enough to prevent death...but having measles is no walk in the park. Did you know having measles can erase previous immunity from other diseases? It's like amnesia for your immune system.
The low red line you see in the graph is the continuation of the grey area in the first graph. As you can see, there's a whole lot more to the story and we easily see a strong correlation with cases of measles following the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1963.
#2 Geier Studies
There is one author whose articles antivaxxers are proud to pass around, especially because it's hosted on PubMed.
Unfortunately, Geier is the new Wakefield. It's not unscientific to post research that counters the consensus. In fact, that's one of the great things about scientific research and its objectivity. Here are more of Geier's articles.
But for starters, research must be taken into account from multiple authors and sources to establish a preponderance of evidence. This prevents us from cherry-picking out only the research that supports our conclusion.
Most studies disagree with Geier
By just visiting the links in the sidebar of one of Geier's article, the ones that are not Geier's other studies, we see already three studies which disagree, all from separate authors
The findings ruled out an association between pervasive developmental disorder and either high levels of ethylmercury exposure comparable with those experienced in the United States in the 1990s or 1- or 2-dose measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations.
Despite compelling scientific evidence against a causal association, many parents and parent advocacy groups continue to suspect that vaccines, particularly measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs), can cause autism
Rigorous scientific studies have not identified links between autism and either thimerosal-containing vaccine or the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.
These are actually really easy to find, and I wasn't looking for articles against the Thimerosal-autism argument, just articles that explore the potential link.
There has (probably) been no real increase in the incidence of autism. There is no scientific evidence that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine or the mercury preservative used in some vaccines plays any part in the aetiology or triggering of autism, even in a subgroup of children with the condition.
There is no link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or the vaccine preservative thimerosal, according to a report released by the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) Immunization Safety Review Committee.
The rise in identified cases of PDDs continued even after the prohibition of thimerosal.
Geier's son profits from research showing autism link
Geier may sound like another Andrew Wakefield, who was shown to have falsified his research to arrive at the same conclusion and was stripped of his license to practice medicine after his study was retracted.
In fact, the same researcher who investigated and exposed Wakefield has also investigated Geier
Geier's methods are "intellectually dishonest"
According to Deer, Geier was exposed by autism activist Kathleen Seidel, an autism activist who runs neurodiversity.com. Seidel found some very interesting information about Geier, namely
- Geier's license has been suspended due to the conduct of his study (see below).
- Geier wrote some of his studies with his son David A. Geier who "is president of MedCon, a medical–legal consulting firm that helps vaccine injury claimants to try to obtain funds from both the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and through civil litigation" In other words, Geier's son and co-author can financially gain from having his father's research published saying there is a link between immunization and autism.
Court records show that judges also have become increasingly wary of Mark Geier, who has testified close to 100 times in vaccine-related cases presided over by "special masters" in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In what's commonly called "vaccine court," Geier testifies on behalf of parents seeking compensation for injuries their children allegedly suffered from reactions to thimerosal in vaccines.
- Geier's license was suspended in all states where he was licensed. Here are the court orders in each state: California, Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, Washington, and Virginia
- David Geier holds only a bachelor's degree in biology.
- Fellow researchers have written letters to admonish Geier's practices
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and all the co- authors stand behind the science and findings of the study, “Safety of Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines: A Two- Phased Study of Computerized Health Maintenance Organization Databases” (1). Although Geier and Geier try to discredit the study by impugning the integrity of the investigators, they have identified no substantive deficiencies with the study’s methods, analysis, or results (2).
Time and again, reputable scientists have dismissed autism research by Geier and his son, David, as seriously flawed. Judges who have heard Mark Geier testify about vaccines' harmful effects have repeatedly called him unqualified, with one describing his statements as "intellectually dishonest."
- Courts found Geier is unqualified to serve as an expert witness in vaccine trials
In particular, there is no evidence that Dr. Geier has either the training or the background to diagnose autism or to treat autism in any child. Simply having an “interest” in vaccines and the possible connection between thimerosal-containing vaccines and the development of neurodevelopmental disorders in children is not sufficient to qualify an individual as an expert in either pediatrics or neurology, or regarding the various forms of mercury and their neurotoxicity.
3: Offit "admitting" MMR vaccine autism link
This is one of the most elegant examples of taking a statement out of context to reverse its meaning.
Paul Offit is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, vaccines, immunology, and virology. He is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine. As such, antivaxxers like to point out that he profits from vaccines. It's a strange allegation to point out that someone is paid money for doing their job, but what is more surprising is this supposed admission by Offit, not that the MMR vaccine causes autism, but:
You can never really say 'MMR doesn’t cause autism,' but frankly when you get in front of the media, you better get used to saying it. Because otherwise people hear a door being left open, when a door shouldn't be left open.
Sounds pretty damning until you realize how unusual it is to start the clip mid-sentence and swiftly end it after two and a half seconds.
Here's the full transcript where Offit begins his thought at around 23 minutes in, revealing the full context.
Schaffner: If you put all the studies together, would you feel uncomfortable if I or anyone else said 'you know, by now I'm very certain that vaccines aren't associated with autism...vaccines don't cause autism'?
Caplan: No, I think the evidence supports the claim...No, and I'd say the burden is now on those who want to show the connection to come up with evidence rather than conversely where good efforts have been made again and again and again with no connection. So, no it wouldn't bother me and I think in the battle in the public arena, this isn't a fight about statistical significance, it's a fight about who's going to capture the ears of the doubters and the hesitaters and I think in that war, one has to say not just 'the bulk of the evidence,' the 'preponderance of the evidence.' I think you have to say, 'there's no link!'
Offit: You know, that's exactly the analysis point. It's the right one. In the scientific method, you formulate a hypothesis and that hypothesis is the null hypothesis. You can either reject it or not reject it, you can't accept it which is to say you can never prove never. You can never really say 'MMR doesn’t cause autism,' but frankly when you get in front of the media, you better get used to saying it. Because otherwise people hear a door being left open, when a door shouldn't be left open.
This is the point at which the antivaxxer's edit ends, conveniently before Caplan interjects with
Caplan: I mean, you can never say Coca Cola doesn't cause autism!
One of the first things you'll learn in any basic statistics course is exactly what Offit is referencing here. It's also what makes science so beautiful because the evidence defends the truth for you.
We cannot prove negative in science, because there is nothing to objectively show that nothing is there. This is what Offit refers to as the null hypothesis.
A hypothesis would be a statement like "smoking causes lung cancer." This can be accepted by establishing controls and isolating only the difference of smoking or not smoking between two large groups. If we see a statistically significant difference in the amount of lung cancer in the smoker's group (and boy do we), the hypothesis is supported by the evidence and the hypothesis is accepted.
A null hypothesis is the negated hypothesis. We can reject the null hypothesis "smoking doesn't cause lung cancer" because we just showed that it does. But can you prove that playing checkers doesn't cause lung cancer? It doesn't matter how much data or controls you establish because (since checkers probably doesn't cause lung cancer) you'll perpetually end up with an absence of data to reject the null hypothesis. So we fail to reject the null hypothesis.
#3 Vaccines are killing and injuring people
Sometimes Antivaxxers just take actual data and fully misinterpret its meaning
At other times they focus on the small and rare percentages of vaccine injuries that occur conveniently leaving out that pretty much all widespread medical care has associations to mortality and injury.
Your standard over-the-counter Aspirin claims at least 3,000 lives a year despite being touted as a miracle drug, especially for cardiovascular disease. This is just how medicine works today.
In people under 75 the benefits of taking aspirin for secondary prevention after a heart attack or stroke clearly outweigh the relatively small risk of bleeding. These people needn't worry,
In the over-75s the risk of a serious bleed is higher...
There is also the argument that this data does not cover longer term effects from vaccines, for which we have this section on vaccine ingredient safety.
National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)
The United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history. In the majority of cases, vaccines cause no side effects, however they can occur, as with any medication—but most are mild. Very rarely, people experience more serious side effects, like allergic reactions. In those instances, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) allows individuals to file a petition for compensation.
Saying we shouldn't vaccinate because injury/death occurs at some level should cause us to also think twice about:
We were unable to find any injury close to or less than vaccines in the CPSC data.